Dries Van Noten might be about to join the designer dealmaking game.
Multiple sources said the Belgian designer hired Elsa Berry’s Vendôme Global Partners to bring in an investor. It is understood a number of discussions have taken place in recent weeks with a variety of potential partners.
The likelihood of a deal could not immediately be learned, but the brand is apt to attract broad interest given its cachet, rarity and business potential.
Representatives for the designer and Berry did not respond to requests for comment.
Like many Belgian designers, Van Noten has resisted most of the common paths to growth, forgoing pre-collections, advertising, celebrity dressing and a handbag push — although he enjoys a substantial following for his footwear.
“Our business doesn’t have to grow every year a huge amount like when you are a part of a big group,” he said in a 2013 interview. “I don’t need to have a store in every city. It’s a luxury that I can say I just want to continue the way that we are doing…to be creative and be busy with things I really love and not be forced to do all the bags and the shoes and the sunglasses and things like that.”
He also doesn’t make fragrances, another cash cow for luxury brands, though his perfumer friend Frédéric Malle did the first in his series of “portrait” scents of Van Noten.
That professional prudence might leave the designer in good stead as he seeks to bring in an investor. Private equity companies, in particular, look for brands that have established themselves and proven they can work in multiple geographies, but still have plenty of room for expansion.
One source estimates the size of Van Noten’s business — which is hinged mainly on ready-to-wear for women and men, and wholesale distribution — south of $100 million.
Van Noten counts boutiques in cities including Antwerp, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris and Seoul, some with partners, while key retail clients include Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Le Bon Marché, Harrods, Lane Crawford, Harvey Nichols and Shinsegae.
Designer and luxe businesses have been having something of a dealmaking moment, with buyers willing to spend for brands after what many saw as a drought.
Last month, Chinese conglomerate Fosun International swooped in and acquired control of French luxury house Lanvin while Amsterdam-based private equity firm Sapinda Holdings bought luxe lingerie company La Perla.
Van Noten, one of the original Antwerp Six, comes from a family of tailors and is a graduate of Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts.
He launched his label with men’s wear in 1986, and established his flagship store in his hometown in 1989, known as Het Modepaleis and located on the site of a historic department store.
Prized for dignified, elegant designs tinged with exotic embellishments, Van Noten is also something of a showman, marking his 50th show with a spectacular dinner for 500 guests at a long table that later became the catwalk, under a row of vintage chandeliers. His most recent fall women’s collection, paraded in a gilded room at Paris City Hall, mingled feathers with rich brocades and hand-drawn floral prints.
Among honors, the Council of Fashion Designers of America crowned Van Noten its International Designer of the Year Award in 2008. More recently, he has been decorated by Fashion Group International, the Couture Council of the Museum at FIT and the Flemish Royal Academy of Belgium.
Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris mounted an exhibition in 2014 devoted to his designs and their influences, which later traveled to Antwerp and attracted record numbers of visitors.